‘Shame on us’: scientists criticise slow response to pandemic

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22nd July 2020


Research Professional


Experts and Sage members cite ‘major failures, oversights and mistakes’ in UK’s response to Covid-19
Top scientific experts have bemoaned the government’s “slow” initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic and lack of long-term investment in public health.
Speaking during a House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee hearing on the management of the coronavirus outbreak, John Bell, a professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, said a key failure in the government’s response to the pandemic was that it started “too slowly”.

“The fact that we were asleep to the concept that we were going to have a pandemic, I think: shame on us,” Bell told MPs. “Since the year 2000 we’ve had eight close calls of emerging infectious diseases, any one of which could have swept the globe as a pandemic. And some of them had a much higher mortality [rate] than this one.”

Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust and member of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Emergencies, criticised the lack of investment in public health, telling MPs: “You can’t just turn on and off public health and the response to it. You invest in it over many, many years.”

He added that the world had “underestimated the warning calls” from previous epidemics such as Sars, Ebola and Zika, and “became a little cynical”.

Devi Sridhar, a professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, agreed and pointed at high costs of dealing with the pandemic now.

“It’s much cheaper to invest in health ahead of time and prevent a crisis than respond to a crisis afterwards,” she said, “and this is something we’ve learned across the crisis.”

The problem with prevention, she added, is that “no one wants to invest in it because if it works you never really see the gains of it”.

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